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Paul Fiene: Master Sculptor of Woodstock Art Colony

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

By Bruce Weber

COMING EVENT

Opening

Grant Arnold and the Golden Era

of Woodstock Lithography, 1930-1940

(Accompanied by Catalog)

Woodstock School of Art

Sat. October 14, 2023, 2-4 p.m.

Followed by Ron Netsky demonstration

Unknown Photographer

Paul Fiene in Woodstock, c. 1940

Paul Strand (1890-1976)

Gaston Lachaise, 1927

Gaston Lachaise (1882-1935)

Peacocks, 1922

Bronze

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gaston Lachaise (1882-1935)

Penguin, c. 1925

Bronze


One of Woodstock's greatest sculptors, Paul Fiene was born in Elberfield, Germany in 1899. He immigrated to America with his family in 1912, as he and his artist brother, Ernest, fled Europe in apprehension of the coming war. Paul studied at the Beaux Arts Institute in New York from 1917-1921, where he received first prize in his life drawing class for his figure studies. He was awarded a Prix de Rome, but turned it down for lack of personal funds. He then served as an assistant to Gaston Lachaise, and later related that he “learned more about the ‘know-how’ of stone from Lachaise than from anyone else. He was such a magnificent craftsman. . . one of the best men with tools I have ever seen.”(1) In the early 1920s, Lachaise created a number of sculptures of birds, including penguins and gulls, as well as dolphins. His fascination at this time with animal subjects had a strong impact on his assistant.

Walker Evans (1903-1975)

Hart Crane, 1929


Lachaise and his wife Isabel visited Woodstock regularly in the early 1920s, and Paul and Ernest associated with them when they came to town. They originally traveled to Woodstock in May 1922 (remaining for the summer), and Lachaise was so enthralled with the area that he decided to rent a place in the village in the winter where he could work when he could get away from the city. He was delighted with the views of the mountains with their little waterfalls, and the brooks, birds and flowers reminded him of his native France. During the course of his early visits he climbed a mountain, walked along paths in the woods, and associated with other artists and writers, including the novelist, translator and magazine editor William Slater Brown, who was staying at the farmhouse of the inventor Enoch Rector (who was working at the time on a kerosene-powered automobile engine). The structure had originally been the farmhouse of Livingston tenant Philip Finger, and was located on what is today Plochmann Lane. Among the many other visitors in the early 1920s to the Rector house (which was surrounded by woods) were Isabel’s son, Edward Nagel, active at the time as a painter, the writer John Dos Passos, and the poet Hart Crane, who spent two months living there in late 1923. William Murrell Fisher, the first curator of the Woodstock Artists Association, was a regular visitor to the house, and Crane also stayed with him while in town, as well as with the artist couple Paul Rohland and Caroline Speare Rohland.(2) Gaston Lachaise and Paul Fiene were in contact as late as January 1933, when they dined together at Ticino’s in Greenwich Village.

Peter A.Juley and Son

Caroline Speare Rohland, c. 1930-1935

Former House of Paul Fiene and Rosella Hartman (With Later Additions), 2023

Former Studio of Paul Fiene, 2023


Fiene first came to Woodstock in 1919. That year he bought several acres from Caroline Speare Rohland on what is today Speare Road. He and Ernest soon built homes and studios on the property while continuing to live part of the year in New York City. Paul’s devotion to Woodstock was longer and greater than that of his brother. He eventually lived there full time and made many close friends among the local artists, including Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Hermon More. He reportedly had an enormous enthusiasm for living and working, and an almost obsessive will to create. Fiene was conservative by nature; he believed in fundamental human values, and was aesthetically interested in the real and tangible. The Rohlands were also to form an association with Lachaise and the Slater circle, which is how they were in contact with Hart Crane.

Unknown Photographer

Rosella Hartman and Paul Fiene, c. 1925

Rosella Hartman (1895-1993)

White Tail Deer in Forest, n.d.

Lithograph on paper

View of Forested Area Behind Paul Fiene and Rosella Hartman’s Former House


Fiene was married to the artist Rosella Hartman. Born in Kansas in 1895 of German-American parents, Hartman was active as a painter, etcher and lithographer. Her sister, who was a costume designer for the theater in New York City, encouraged her to leave Kansas and attend the Art Students League of New York. Hartman first came to Woodstock in 1919 when she studied outdoor figure painting with Andrew Dasburg at the league’s summer school. Over the summer she met Fiene, and they married in 1923. Like her husband, Hartman specialized in depicting domestic and wild animals. She frequented zoos and circuses, where she spent hours drawing and communing with the animals. Her subjects usually appear in a lush natural setting. She was thrilled by the mountains and forests of the Catskills, especially around her property on Speare Road. Above all she favored picturing deer, racoon, fox, bear, and cats. These animals continue to flock to her former forest property, which is pictured in many of her works. Before moving in 1981 to its present location on State Route 212, the Woodstock School of Art operated for over a decade out of Paul Fiene’s studio, which they rented beginning in 1969 from Hartman, who died in 1993 at the age of 98.


Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Ernest Fiene, 1941

Terracotta


Fiene worked in plaster, marble, granite, stone, bronze and terracotta. He enjoyed cutting directly into stone. His friend Hermon More (who served as the second director of the Whitney Museum of American Art) remarked that the “recalcitrant substance of stone seemed to confront him with an almost irresistible challenge.”(3) A master craftsman, he tended to simplify in order to achieve what William Murrell Fisher referred to as "a just balance between formalized design with its danger of aridity and the meaningless detail of naturalism.”(4)

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, 1936

Bronze

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Robert Winthrop Chanler,

1928

Bronze

Woodstock Artists

Association and Museum

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Emil Ganso, c. 1929

Plaster

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum


Fiene created portraits of many of Woodstock’s leading artists of the early 20th century. Upon the exhibition of a group of his portraits in New York in 1933, a writer pointed out that the faces of his subjects would be recognizable to those who were familiar with the current generation of American artists.(5) He created busts in plaster, bronze, stone or terracotta of Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Robert Winthrop Chanler, Emil Ganso, Norbert Heerman, Henry Mattson, John Carroll, Hermon More, John H. Striebel, Henry Billings, Kathryn Schmidt, Judson Smith, Murray Hoffman, and other artists connected with the colony.

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

A. A. Champanier, c. 1940

Stone

Private Collection

A. A. Champanier (1896-1960)

Interior with Seated Woman, n.d.

Private Collection

Corn Crib and Red Barn

Opposite White Barn,

Corner of Rock City Road and Lower Byrdcliffe Road, 2023

[See Top of Roofs Through

Window in Painting Above]


Recently it was discovered that Fiene created a stone bust of the little known Abram August Champanier (best known as A. A. Champanier), a painter, muralist, wallpaper designer, teacher, and art school director, who began showing at the Woodstock Artists Association in 1926, and over the course of future decades had homes with his family in Woodstock, and near the Saugerties hamlet of Quarryville. Another discovery is an undated canvas by Champanier featuring a view of the interior (with seated figure) of the white barn that still stands at the corner of Lower Byrdcliffe Road and Rock City Road, with a partial view out two of the back windows of the corn shed and barn across the road. This spot (once known as Short's Corners and later as Russell's Corners) was discussed in part three of my post on George Ault.

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

William Murrell Fisher, 1927

Stone

Eugene Speicher (1883-1962)

Portrait of Paul Rohland, c. 1925

American Academy of Arts and Letters


Among Fiene's finest portraits is that of the British-born William Murrell Fisher, one of the most interesting characters to reside in Woodstock during the golden era of the art colony, and a person who played an important role in supporting, connecting, exhibiting and writing about the artists of the colony (under the name William Murrell). Fisher came to Woodstock about 1917. He may have been drawn here by his friend Paul Rohland, who also served as something of. connector between artists in the colony.


Fisher settled on the Maverick, where he became friends with Hervey White. In his autobiography White reported that several years after Fisher finished his schooling in the United States he “attained a job of washing windows at the [Metropolitan Museum of Art]. [Next] he was given a counter job of handing out sketching materials to copying artists and this way made contacts and friends. When his health became impaired from confinement, they recommended he try Woodstock [where he settled on the Maverick for a period]. He was introduced to me by Paul Rohland . . . or some other one. He seemed to know [all the artists] and brought more my way. . . . He published a series of [books] on young artists and his judgements have been verified by time. In England he published The Toady's Handbook, and by the Whitney Gallery his great work [A History of American Graphic Humor].”(6)

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Harold Ward, n.d.

Plaster

[Photograph from Woodstock Artists Association Archives]


From 1917 to 1920, Fisher was active as a writer on White’s lively illustrated little magazine The Plowshare, and from 1921 to 1922 he served as the first curator of the Woodstock Artists Association. His series of books on younger artists included several who were associated with Woodstock, including Kuniyoshi, Peggy Bacon, Alexander Brook, and Paul Fiene’s brother Ernest. Paul Fiene also executed a portrait bust of the poet and essayist Harold Ward, who co-published the younger artists series with Fisher. By 1925, Fisher had moved for a period to California, where he was involved with Stone International Galleries in the city of Monrovia in Los Angeles County.

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Grant Wood, modeled in 1941

Terracotta


When the artist Grant Wood took ill in the 1940s he asked his close friend Fiene to take over his classes at the University of Iowa, and while there he modeled his portrait. The sculptor also received private commissions for portraits, including those of Kate Seabrook, Edna Perkins and Coburn Gillman.

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Figure, c. 1925

Pink terracotta

[Photograph from Woodstock Artists Association Archives]

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Torso, 1930.

Gilded bronze

Weatherspoon Art Museum

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Rising Figure, c. 1932

Bronze patinated plaster

New York State Museum,

Historic Woodstock Collection,

Gift of Arthur A. Anderson


Fiene also sculpted torsos and full-length nudes. In his early figurative works he rendered simple actions and figures in repose. Rising Figure was the centerpiece of his solo exhibition in 1931 at Gallery 144 on West 13th Street in New York City. It was praised by art critics for its beautiful design, flow of planes, rhythmical fullness, coordination of muscular balance, and the swing of its torso. One critic observed that Fiene “had been chiefly developing his knowledge of form and studying various media . . . .”(7)

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Angel Fish, n.d.

Marble

(Photograph from Woodstock Artists Association Archives)

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Bird, n.d.

Marble

(Photograph from Woodstock Artists Association Archives)

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Rising Deer, n.d.

Terracotta

Private Collection

(Photograph from Woodstock Artists Association Archives)

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Owl, 1949

Granite

Woodstock Artists Association and Museum

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Buffalo, n.d.

Terracotta

[Photograph from Woodstock Artists Association Archives]

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Penguin, 1932

Marble

Woodstock Artists Association and Museum


Fiene sculpted a menagerie of animal, fish and bird life. This includes deer, owls, buffalo, horses, penguins, pelicans, snails, and cats, both in the round and in relief. According to William Murrel Fisher, who authored the introduction to the catalog of Fiene’s solo exhibition of 1931, these works were “experiments in research.”(8) His inquisitiveness motivated him to explore a broad range of these creatures movements, stances, shapes and contours.

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Cat and Kitten, n.d.

Terracotta

[Photograph from Woodstock Artists Association Archives]

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Cat, n.d.

Carrara marble

[Photograph from Woodstock Artists Association Archives]

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Two Cats, 1932

Terracotta

Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, State University of New York at New Paltz


Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Reliefs of Deer and Polar Bears, 1938

Cast stone with silver leaf finish

Old Chelsea Station Post Office,

New York City


The majority of Fiene's works are of cats, which he sculpted in action and repose, capturing their lithe and sinuous grace. In 1938, Fiene was commissioned by the Treasury Section of Fine Arts to execute two reliefs in cast stone with a silver leaf finish, one featuring deer and the other featuring bears, for the Old Chelsea Station Post Office on West 18th Street near 7th Avenue in New York City.

Unknown Photographer

Paul Fiene Demonstrating to Student, n.d.


Fiene was active as a teacher. He taught sculpture in the art department at Bard College along with Harvey Fite, and in the late 1940s he was one of the most sought after instructors at the Art Students League's summer school in Woodstock, where he taught wood carving, stone cutting and modeling in clay.


Installation, Paul Fiene, Sculpture Center

Paul Fiene (1899-1949)

Acrobat, 1949

Marble

[Photograph from Woodstock Artists Association Archives]


Fiene’s death in 1949 at the age of 50 was reportedly brought on by the rigors of work and his normal emotional intensity. A memorial exhibition of his work was held in 1952 at the Sculpture Center in New York City. He had been reluctant to commit himself to a show during his last years. The exhibition included portraits, torsos, nudes, animal sculptures and other subjects from Fiene’s entire career, including the last work done at his Woodstock studio, a partial figure of an acrobat placed upside down with the legs pointing skyward. A critic for the New York Herald Tribune related that “Woodstock in spite of its many artists of repute who have worked there, has produced but few sculptors of note. One of these, who practiced his art unostentatiously for a long period, the late Paul Fiene, is recalled by an attractive show at the Sculpture Center . . . .”(9)


(1) Paul Fiene Dies," Kingston Daily Freeman, July 22, 1949, p. 22. Interestingly, as a young artist in the 1930s Sidney Geist, who went on to become a major Brancusi scholar, served as Paul Fiene's sculpture assistant in Woodstock,

(2) For Hart Crane in Woodstock see Will Nixon, "Searching for Hart Crane," Woodstock Times, July 1, 2010, p. 24. For the Rohland's and Crane see "Miss Hartman Recalls Woodstock '20s." July 18, 1963, otherwise unidentified newspaper article, Woodstock Artists Association Scrapbook. It would appear from the cut up clipping that the piece was published in the Kingston Daily Freeman, but the article did not turn up in a search of that newspaper for July 18th, 1963.

In her interview in 1971 with Jean Gaede, who was gathering material for a hoped for major book on the Maverick, the artist Lucille Blanch mentions knowing the Lachaise's when they were in Woodstock, and that they originally stayed at the Twin Gables in the village before taking a house also in town where they remained all winter. Lucille and her artist husband Arnold Blanch occasionally went into Woodstock and had dinner with the Lachaise's. She also mentions that she met Hart Crane at one of the Lachaise's parties. On one occasion the couple came to the Maverick to have dinner at the Blanches home. "Interview with Lucille Blanch," Maverick Archives, Center for Photography at Woodstock, n.p.

(3) Hermon More, "[Foreword]," Paul Fiene 1899-1949 (New York: The Sculpture Center, 1952), n.p.

(4) William Murrell [William Murrell Fisher], "The Sculpture of Paul Fiene," essay in Paul Fiene (New York: Gallery 144 West 13th Street, 1931), n.p.

(5) Recent Sculptures of Paul Fiene," Brooklyn Eagle, February 26, 1933, p. 58.

(6) Hervey White, “Autobiography,” manuscript in the Papers of Hervey White, Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, p.206. A photocopy of the autobiography is the collection of the Woodstock Public Library.

(7) Louise Cross, "Bourdelle-Maillol-Paul Fiene," Creative Art 12 (March 1933), p. 211.

(8) Murrell, n.p.

(9) The review in the New York Herald Tribune is cited in "Sculpture in Paul Fiene's Memorial Exhibit Acclaimed by Critics in New York City," Kingston Daily Freeman, March 1, 1952, p. 5.











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